Where the Rio Plata and the Atlantic Ocean meet.

Uruguay is a place I’ve heard a lot about in recent times and certainly I wasn’t alone amongst my friends in wanting to find out more. Various TV programs have highlighted this little country squeezed between Brasil and Argentina, showing it to be the “latest” destination for paradise seeking expats. After much wondering I was finally able to visit and see the place for myself.

Our first stop in Uruguay was Colonia del Sacramento a short trip across the wide Rio del Plato on the Busquebus. The trip was lovely and we sat with a young couple from Brasil. I gave them one of my cards because they are very interested in moving to Canada. He manages a large number of malls throughout Brasil and she is a fashion designer. Really nice, smart, interesting people. She showed us photos of the dresses that she has designed and made by hand and they were impressive with lots of lacework. I hope I hear from them in the future.

Colonia del Sacramento is a UNESCO world heritage site because in the “old quarter” there are historic remnants of the Portuguese and Spanish colonial days. Very pretty but touristy and expensive restaurants. Three days there were sufficient to get a sense of the history and to enjoy a decent hotel in a good location. Very walkable and safe and with a tourist map you can find all the highlights quite easily.

There are some interesting little museums in Colonia that give a glimpse into the maritime history of the place, the importance of it as a defence position for both the Spanish and the Portuguese and some that house artifacts from daily life as well as one that had great prehistoric fossils found locally.

Shown on TV, Uruguay and ultimately the capital, Montevideo, glitters with modern buildings, beautiful beaches and relaxed life styles. At first, I was disappointed by Montevideo but solely, as it turned out, based on the area where we stayed. It was rough and dirty, never trust pictures of hotels on the internet. It was a dive and I changed rooms three times before I found something bearable. The area was not safe and there were many homeless druggie type people. The hotel was in the same price range as the ones we had in Chile and Argentina. Anything in Montevideo that was on a par with those was substantially more money. However, after a few days I came to a different conclusion. My view of Montevideo was definitely coloured by the hotel.

Day one we wandered, not really sure where to go or what to do to make the situation more likeable but eventually we found our way to a nice restaurant and discovered the warmth and friendliness of the Uruguanos. Like in Argentina and Brasil, they love Mexicans so we were a shoe in with my tres amigos who have consistently fallen into laughter riddled conversations with local people.

Since our view of the centre of Montevideo was dim, we decided a day trip was in order so day two saw us taking the bus from Montevideo to Punta del Este. Night and day to downtown Montevideo. Beautiful condos and very busy beaches and restaurants.

Day three in Montevideo we took a walking tour and although the weather was dull and gray the walk was interesting and we learned a great deal about the history of Uruguay. Some of the architecture is exemplary for its time but there is always an odd assortment of old and new, pretty and ugly, dirty and well dirty. Poor Montevideo needs a good scrub. There are may museums including one about the survivors or the famous plane crash in the Andes that resorted to cannabilism in order to stay alive before they were found. We were in Montevideo during Carnival and went to the museum of Carnival to see what it was all about. Costumes, masks, music, local traditions with a vaudeville touch seem to me to be the main elements of Carnival parades, performances and celebrations. Oddly we didn’t see much in the way of Carnival activities and our walking tour guide told us that Montevideo empties during Carnival as everyone heads to the beaches for one last summer fling before school starts. Another reason why Montevideo seemed lacklustre, lots of museums and businesses and of course offices and government were closed for Carnival. 

On our last day we got out of the “old quarter” of Montevideo and drove up the coast and for the first time we could see the attraction of Montevideo. Lots of new homes and condos, clean streets, wide boulevards and of course beaches and the ocean. Here we could see a different way of life, lots of walkers, joggers, beach goers, cafes etc, not like the sad area around our hotel.

I would give Montevideo another chance but I would stay far from the centre, have a car and explore along the coastal part of the city. A one day walking tour of old Montevideo and one day for the museums would be plenty for downtown. 

The Midnight Bus to Buenos Aires – Cama Bus

Buenos Aires…last stop in Argentina

After our marathon road trip through a good deal of the northern parts of Argentina, we managed to get the car back to the airport in Cordoba on time and in one piece. The circle complete, we opted for a cama bus to Buenos Aires. At the same time as Canada is reducing bus travel it is flourishing in Latin America. In the bus station in Cordoba a solid line of ticket kiosks stretches the length of the station, each kiosk representing a different company, classes, destinations and style of bus.   

The cama bus or bed bus offers the most comfortable means of overnight travel. Not knowing what to expect we were pleasantly surprised by our double decker complete with fully reclining seats, privacy curtains, attendants, meals, movies, blankets, pillows, etc.. Once asleep I stayed that way for six hours and woke only to find myself in Buenos Aires. You can’t beat that. The downside of bus travel is of course having to hang out in bus stations, never very safe of pleasant. 

For two nights we stayed in an Air BnB in the trendy neighbourhood of Recoleta. Our apartment on the 8th floor was large and well furnished and everyone had their own bedroom and bathroom. It had been very hot in BA just before our arrival and the old building where we stayed had stored the heat and it was nice to have AC even though the weather outside was cooling off. It seems like we’ve had to use the AC very infrequently on this trip as so many places have suffered a heat wave just before our arrival. 

Recoleta is one of the trendier areas of Buenos Aires. It is said that the elite live, dine, shop and enjoy life on theses Paris inspired streets. The labrynthe that is Ricoleta, is lined with shops, bars, restaurants and plenty of services. In the larger streets there are big malls with every type of store imaginable, except one that sells a Fitbit charging cable. I found a great English book store but it was limited to browsing as I am carry-on only.  Another area that is very touristy but fun is the Boca where the labourers, mainly from Italy and Spain, and their families lived when they arrived in Buenos Airies.

Recoleta is only one neighbourhood to explore but there is something to be said for getting to know your zona and what it has to offer. It’s easier to get a sense of daily life than if you stay el centro where everything is commercial and the touts are busy trying to pry you from your money. Nevertheless we opted for some time in el centro where the main sights and attractions are close together and this way we were able to see more without travel time to get there. 

The tango, the most passionate of dances arose from the working class men who laboured on the docks etc.. in BA around the turn of the century. My impression is that it was almost a form of wrestling between men but of course a much more artistic and beautiful interpretation of physical contact. It wasn’t until later that women were brought into the tango picture. It is a focussed and serious dance, it has some characteristics that you might find in Tai Chi etc. We learned all this at one of the Tango shows, a very touristy, dinner style event that included 400 free pesos for gambling at a casino after the show. In spite of the touristy nature, I thought it was a great show, well produced, great costumes and dance and the food was good too, and we made new friends at our table from Columbia. Tango isn’t the only thing they take seriously in Buenos Aires….meat runs a close second. Jave was in heaven and as you can see in the photo below he finally found a portion size to his liking.

We also signed up for a day excursion to Tigre a small settlement at the mouth of the Rio Plata. The bus trip there was good and our guide gave a running commentary until we reached an “artisans market” where we had half an hour to look around. Based on what we saw of Tigre, I’d say it is a high end little town with many nice homes and shops to match, that belong to the more well-heeled folks of Buenos Aires. After “shopping” we were taken to our actual destination which was a boat that would return us along the canals of Tigre and then into the Rio Plata and finally home to Buenos Aires.

At one point we had hoped to have more time to spend in and around BA. We had wanted to rent a car and head for the beaches around Plata del Mar but we used up most of what we had left on our road trip. I don’t regret the road trip, it was wonderful to see so much of the “land” of Argentina, but given the distances between our destinations, it might be wiser to fly across Argentina. Next time!

And now, with a week remaining in Argentina, we have purchased tickets on the Buquebus catarman high speed ferry to Colonia del Sacramento across the Rio Plata in Uruguay. So excited to see Uruguay.